One in six international students in UK start course overseas

Research finds that China and Malaysia account for the largest number of international students coming to the UK through offshore partnerships

November 6, 2020
Plane landing in UK
Source: iStock

One in six international students in the UK come to the country as a result of UK universities’ offshore campuses and partnerships, according to new research based on figures pre-dating the pandemic.

The study from Universities UK International (UUKi) and the British Council, based on data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency, found that around 16 per cent (15,000) of all first-degree overseas students in the UK in 2018-19 came via UK university programmes delivered outside the country or credit recognition agreements.

China and Malaysia account for the largest numbers; more than a third of Chinese students and two-fifths of Malaysians enrolled in UK degree programmes come through these pathways.

In contrast, just 10 per cent of new undergraduates coming to the UK from the European Union came through these offshore partnerships, according to the report Transnational routes to on-shore UK higher education.

More than half (58 per cent) of transnational entrants arrive in year two of their course and typically stay in the UK for two or more years, but a significant minority only study one year of their course in the UK.

The report also found that transnational entrants made up 21 per cent of new international students at lower-tariff institutions, but just 12 per cent at high-tariff institutions. The size of this gap is much smaller than that found in previous reports by the Higher Education Funding Council for England based on data from 2012-13 and 2013-14, it adds.

The report noted that student mobility to UK campuses is often a key part of the rationale for building university academic partnerships and programmes abroad, but the payoffs can be poorly understood due to a lack of data.

Matt Durnin, global head of insights and consultancy at the British Council and author of the report, said that as Covid-19 continues to disrupt student mobility it is likely there will be “greater demand for UK programmes delivered offshore”, but universities may also “turn a more critical eye towards the financial sustainability of their global activities”.

Eduardo Ramos, head of transnational education at UUKi and a key contributor to the report, added that the research shows the diversity of ways in which UK universities recruit international students.

“Transnational routes to onshore recruitment have the benefits of offering greater flexibility, the ability to earn both UK and local qualifications, and the chance for those who could not afford to study an entire overseas degree to experience university education in the UK. We may see expansion of this type of route in countries where these benefits become more relevant,” he said.

ellie.bothwell@timeshighereducation.com

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